Tim Sheehy can think of many others who deserve the recognition he received Thursday at the Navy Operational Support Center in Helena.
Sheehy, 29, is a former Navy SEAL who on April 9, 2012, helped save a member of his unit in Afghanistan who was wounded during a gunfight with enemy forces. His valor earned him a Bronze Star Medal with a V for combat.
Later in the day, the blast from an improvised explosive device, which struck him across the breastplate worn during combat and knocked him unconscious, earned him a Purple Heart.
The medals were pinned on him by Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., who himself is a former Navy SEAL and who received a Bronze Star Medal for his service.
“It’s more important about the guys who are still over there," Sheehy said. “There are people who are still deployed … there’s always somebody on the front line. What I did is nothing compared to what a lot of people have sacrificed.”
“It just sometimes feels silly giving honor or praise when there’s so many people who have given so much more,” he added.
Zinke, who joined the Navy in 1985, said he spent most of his time training for war and occasionally going into battle, unlike Sheehy and others who will likely spend all of their time in service at war.
While today is about Sheehy, it’s also about his wife, Zinke said, and the enormous sacrifices at home.
Being at home is sometimes as much of a sacrifice and sometimes more than being away, he added.
Zinke also spoke to the problems he saw with the VA nationally -- he excluded Montana from his criticism -- and said the VA is a broken system.
There are wounds that are visible and others that are not, he continued, before saying the VA is not ready to accommodate women’s health.
“And every veteran, regardless male or female, should receive the same care, and that’s a challenge for us all,” Zinke said.
But today we have a hero, a true hero, Zinke said before pinning the medals on Sheehy, who came from Bozeman, where he’s lived for more than a year, for the ceremony.
Sheehy grew up in Minnesota and is the first of his family -- he has an older brother -- to serve since World War II.
His parents noticed his childhood interest in the military. His mother was an interior designer until his birth, when she chose to stay at home and raise her children. His father was in construction and real estate.
“From a young age, it was always something I was going to do,” he said.
America is a great country, Sheehy said, “but it doesn’t come free.”
His parents instilled in him the hard work ethic of Midwestern families -- “Get it right the first time.”
“Do it right until the job’s done. Don’t just work until 5 o’clock and then go home,” he said.
“Shared risk, shared reward,” was part of what he learned growing up too.
“You can’t expect other people to take risk for you and reap the benefit,” he explained. “If you want something, you need to put skin in the game as well. I think that’s what really led me to service, was realizing that.”
“Somebody has to do the job, and I can’t just always expect that somebody will come out of nowhere and do it. Sometimes you have to be that somebody,” he said. “That’s something they taught me from early on.”
Sheehy served in the military from 2004 until last year. His choices in service were guided by his desire to be part of the most relevant part of the operation.
While he went into the United States Naval Academy intending to be a fighter pilot, the start and growth of the wars showed him the greater need was for people on the ground to lead the fight against the insurgency.
This realization, he said, led him to Army Ranger training, service with Army special operations forces and then to the SEAL teams where he would be serving with the best.
He’s worn the uniform in Iraq, Afghanistan, South America and elsewhere -- locations he can’t discuss.
But on an April day more than three years ago in Afghanistan, he was serving at a remote post in a landscape he describes as kinetic.
“The insurgency kind of owned that part of the countryside, so we were actively expanding into a new region and establishing outposts to hold the gain we were making for the physical terrain that we were capturing.”
Sheehy was a lieutenant and led a dozen SEALs and an Army contingent for support that day. In all, there were 18 plus some Afghanistan partners under his command.
Saving a life
The citation that accompanies the Bronze Star said his team came under enemy fire from several directions.
One of his team members was wounded in the leg during the gunfight, “a fairly long troops in contact scenario,” he said.
Others had been wounded previously throughout the deployment, he explained, but “Any time someone gets hurt, it’s a team effort to recover the wounded individual but also to keep pressing the fight to the enemy. You still win the fight.”
“That was our second contact that day,” Sheehy said.
April 9, he said, “that was another long day of multiple contacts.”
Operations, he explained, ran from hours to days.
This wasn’t the toughest day of his deployment or of the 150 missions in which he participated. Of those missions, more than one in three resulted in contact with the enemy.
“That day we were unlucky to have Craig get wounded, but we were all lucky to come away in one piece,” he said.
The Bronze Star Medal citation places the battle during a combat reconnaissance patrol in the Agrhandab River valley.
“With total disregard for his own life, he ran 50 meters through enemy fire to aid the casualty, pulling him from the contact area and personally shielding him from fire,” the citation stated.
When a medic was unable to locate the wounded man, Sheehy ran through the contact area to guide the medic to the wounded man. He also ordered a medical evacuation helicopter zone be created before draping the man over his shoulders to carry him 200 meters for evacuation.
“He then rearmed, heroically returning to the contact zone in order to lead the flanking counterattack on the enemy’s position, resulting in two insurgents killed in action,” the citation continued.
After suppressing the enemy contact, Sheehy returned to mark the landing zone and then carry the wounded man to the helicopter.
“Lieutenant Sheehy’s total disregard for his own personal safety under fire undoubtedly saved the life of his wounded man and ensured the defeat of the attackers.
“By his bold initiative, courageous actions, and unwavering dedication to duty, lieutenant Sheehy reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,” the citation stated.